Understanding Juvenile Decertification Hearings

There are times when our office is retained to represent the interests of a minor in a criminal proceeding. While many of these young clients and their parents believe that the juvenile criminal system will adjudicate these matters, we frequently must advise them that a juvenile disposition is not an automatic right. A disposition in the juvenile system is advantageous and obviously preferred for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, juvenile adjudications, even those which result in a conviction, are not considered criminal convictions for the purposes of the accused’s permanent record. A juvenile conviction therefore does not impose the same stigma of a conviction in the adult system which can sometimes prevent a person from seeking certain types of employment or other academic or professional opportunities.

When the prosecution makes the decision to charge a juvenile as an adult, a court must make a determination as to whether the public’s interest is served by this type of disposition. A court will use the following factor in its determination: (1) the impact of the offense on the victim or victims; (2) the impact of the offense on the community; (3) the threat to the safety of the public or any individual posed by the minor; (4) the nature and circumstances of the offense allegedly committed by the minor; (5) the degree of the child’s culpability; (6) the adequacy and duration of dispositional alternatives and in the adult criminal justice system; and (7) whether the minor is amenable to treatment, supervision or rehabilitation as a juvenile.

A minor’s amenability toward treatment requires that a psychologist or psychiatrist examine the accused and make a finding of amenability based on his or her (1) age; (2) mental capacity; (3) maturity; (4) the degree of criminal sophistication; (5) previous records, if any; (6) the nature and extent of any prior delinquent history, including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor; (7) whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction.

In many cases, the burden of establishing that a juvenile is not amenable toward treatment rests with the Commonwealth through the prosecution. The standard of proof that the court will apply to this burden is preponderance of the evidence which is a much lower standard than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While the prosecution does bear the burden in many cases, there are cases in which the defense bears this burden of proof; these are cases which involve a deadly weapon or cases in which the minor was previously adjudicated delinquent of a crime that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult. Such crimes would include rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated assault, robbery, aggravated indecent assault, kidnapping, murder, voluntary manslaughter, an attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of these aforementioned crimes.

In conclusion, disposition is the juvenile system is not a right based one age. The prosecution is permitted to charge a juvenile as an adult. Disposition in the adult system carries with it the same consequences faced of any accused in that system regardless of age. The parents of minor’s with crime should be mindful of the prosecution’s discretion and retain counsel who can shepherd them through this process to minimize its effect on their child’s lifetime opportunities.